Diamond Vehicle

January 21, 2014 | Published Short Stories, Writing

The following excerpt from Death of an Animatronic Band was published recently by Tupelo Quarterly Press, with German translation courtesy of Eugene Sampson

diamond vehicle

She saw him sitting in the door of his motel room, half in/half out, two long legs splayed out in front of him. He looked vulnerable, wearing only underwear, and big, unlaced boots. The sun shone on his pale knees, turning them pink. She could smell his skin burning under the light — it released a special, oily perspiration that mixed with the smell of bread as he broke it open and scattered on the ground by his feet. Chipmunks and blue jays and black birds surrounded him. She smelled the sweat of his armpits as well. A hooked cane lay still by his side as though sleeping. The man kept tossing bits of bread into the parking lot. The animals clambered around his pieces. Each time he raised an arm up to toss some moist lump of food, everyone — the chipmunks, the birds, the flies, the daring field mouse — scattered out of sight.

They remained nearby, however, peering at him from a variety of hiding places. You could feel them watching. Every inanimate object felt pensive and staid, electrified by whatever creature had either hidden itself or could have hidden itself under, behind, or on top of the rotten log, the tin can, the soda dispenser, the rock, the tree, the car, the traffic cone, the empty toilet paper tube, the laundry machine, the dumpster, the ceramic dog decoration, or the large artificial boulder in the middle of the parking lot. Seconds after any piece of bread landed on the ground, each hiding place burst with such rattling force it was as though every thing had systematically birthed a myriad of living creatures, like portals expelling aliens from another world. The small furred and feathered bodies raced up like rabid beasts, suddenly fearless, to gain access to a fresh bite of bread first. The man’s hunk of food became a nexus of energy.

It made the coyote lonely to watch. “I want to play,” she thought, the biggest animal to have arrived so far.

A hawk circled above them.

Strangely, the man did not appear to be going anywhere. He was ugly. And pock marked, as one who had survived a fire. At first the coyote stayed hidden in a grove of nearby trees. Here, an old squirrel teased her about her cowardice. She began to creep closer — past the Jeffrey pine that smelled like vanilla; a family of owls lived upstairs, though they slept through the din. The coyote passed a rusted hunk of metal where the opossum slept; she heard it hissing in the dark. The coyote mocked its human hands, then crawled alongside and under a stretch of dividing hedge. Within the cage of its branches some 40 brown sparrows flitted back and forth, chattering with heckles — they mocked the coyote’s matted fur, her scrawny figure, her appetite for trash. This time the dog ignored them and kept on, stealthy as a shadow, through the parking lot of a little station where people took their cars to drink — here the ground stank like a time before the world began.

The smell made her dizzy. Only ants collected in a swarm around a nearby trashcan, and the coyote lapped them up. It was a nice treat. Sticky sweet syrup had baked into the concrete — likely what drew the ants here first — it added a nice base of sugar and artificial fruit as she smacked up the little black beasts, watching their numbers teem and she crunched their bodies to bits. A wave of frenzy spread through their numbers like a fever. The coyote licked her chops and slunk off again.

A stone’s throw away, a hummock of grass provided good cover. There she found a mound of deer waste that she risked rolling in. Having disguised herself thus, she lingered on her belly, nose down to the edge of cement that hemmed the motel parking lot, just before the laundry room; the tall man’s room stood five doors beyond. Here, she could stay down wind and see everything. She hugged the ground.

The hawk gave her away. It swooped low, and let out a piercing cry. The man’s temporary familiars froze in their tracks and met the coyote’s gaze, each one stricken with a momentary fear when they saw her yellow eyes.

Her small, unintimidating and slightly crooked face appeared out of the grass, a smudge of shit across her eyes, everyone in the parking lot began to laugh at her, emboldened by the human’s presence. So long as he was there, they were invincible. The chipmunks laughed. The fattest one raced within the reach of her paw and scolded her with its horrible squeak, as the blue jays hopped like mad and took advantage of the chipmunk’s distraction — now fighting with one another to try and lift the largest mound of bread off the ground. The coyote sat up entirely. She smiled to show her teeth until the little ones ran away. She could taste the stranger’s pheromones in the back of her throat.

“Du hast mir die ganzen Freuende verscheucht,” said the human.

Quietude expanded in the air between them that was not so light hearted as it had been before. The others noticed it too. They all but vanished. Even their old hiding places felt lifeless. She should have gone with them, but could not break away. She felt his desire to communicate, her own inability to do so, and felt suddenly overwhelmed by the sense of their parallel worlds — paraworlds — which were, for a very fleeting moment pressed up against one another. She felt him peering. She enjoyed his blindness and stared, unblinking, at the scar tissue on his face.

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